Under the Sun

Phoenix Drummer Mike 'Bam Bam' Sversvold Is Taking a Break

Mike "Bam Bam" Sversvold spent his career in some of Phoenix's most legendary punk bands.
Mike "Bam Bam" Sversvold spent his career in some of Phoenix's most legendary punk bands. Mike Sversvold

The Medieval Knievels was the funnest band I was ever in,” local punk legend Mike “Bam Bam” Sversvold said last Wednesday. “All four of us wore Evel Knievel jumpsuits and helmets onstage. That is just some fun stuff right there.”

Sversvold has known some fun stuff in his time. Before his recent retirement, he played drums for several of Arizona’s best-known punk bands, including JFA, Rabid Rabbit, The Harvest, and Mighty Sphincter. Last month, members of punk perennial Lifesize Monsters announced Sversvold’s semi-retirement.

“That means I’m kind of like on a hiatus,” he clarified. “I left Lifesize Monsters a while ago because I need to get my health together for a while. I’ve got really bad arthritis, and I have vertigo. I blacked out last summer and fell onto some gravel. I woke up with second-degree burns. I walk with a cane now. I do plan to get up and play drums again someday. I’ve been playing drums since I was 10.”

That’s when Sversvold met the son of local TV legend Pat McMahon, his neighbor in the ’70s. “Kevin was a really good drummer, and I’d go over to his house and watch him play. I was like, ‘I could do that.’ He gave me a pair of drumsticks, and everything else was over for me after that.”

Sversvold got kicked out of grade school band for playing too loud, but he continued to hang out in the band room, drawing a crowd during lunchtime recess with his noisy percussion. High school was less fun.

“I was kind of an outcast, being the only punk. The beatings never ceased. The jocks would throw me in the rose bushes. There was no tolerance for punks.”

Sversvold started hanging out at local skate parks. All the kids he knew there made him play air drums to whatever music came over the PA — Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols. “It was truth in the lyrics,” he said. “There was no posing, it was all attitude — what pisses us off, what we like. Skateboarding and punk joined hands and became brothers.”

In the mosh pit at an underground show, a kid named Don Pendleton knocked Sversvold into a stack of metal chairs. Afterward, they got to talking. Pendleton needed a drummer for his band. “That’s kind of how JFA started.”

Right around that time, Sversvold finally made a friend at school. “This kid the same age as me moved to town, and he was wearing these jeans that said ‘Jodie Foster’s Army’ in black marker. I went over and said, ‘That’s my band.’ But then his mom pulled him out of school because he kept getting beat up.”

Sversvold needed to get out of the house. “It was the classic evil stepdad story. I could have stayed at home and put up with the abuse, but I dropped out. My band was doing good. I was touring by the time I was 15.”

People started calling him Bam Bam after the first JFA show. “I was in Mighty Sphincter and JFA at the same time,” he said. “I’d go to rehearsal for one band, and from there I’d go right to rehearsal with another one. Then I’d eat something and do a show with whatever other band I was playing with. Wild times.”

In the early ’80s Phoenix punk scene, Sversvold said, “You had the old punks, more like the British guys with safety pins in their ears and swastika armbands. Then you had the new generation, we were the skateboarders with shaved heads, playing punk at the Knights of Pythias in Tempe.”

Bam Bam still loves a good slam. But he considers moshing dangerous. “I mean, I was in this death metal band called Soothsayer, and we opened for Slayer one time. And there was like, let’s see, three broken arms, one girl got her ribs broken. They had an ambulance on-site for the whole show. Not cool, man.”

Sversvold’s been spending semi-retirement watching a lot of television. “I’m a big-time movie buff,” he said. Music still calls to him. “Every once in a while I pick up my guitar and play a little. I have ideas for songs.”

“I’ve had great times,” Sversvold said. “I got to meet some very cool people. I met the Monkees. And Bianca Jagger. I’m friends with Ted Simons. One time I got backstage and met KC and the Sunshine Band. Oh, yeah. I have had a very cool life.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela